DILEMMA

 

This is really very hard for me, you know. 

I’ve ever felt very secure about anything much in my life, you see.  You get into the habit of not being very trusting, of not wanting to believe that things will work out.  What you always say to yourself is Life sucks.  Nothing ever worked out for me before.  Why should it now?

And so you retreat behind your armour, where it’s safe and nothing can touch you.

Everyone has armour.  Even those you think life dealt the good hand to.  But those of us who’ve had the piss-poor hands, our armour’s pretty dense.

For some people it’s a real shell.  They walk around with attitude, the don’t-mess-with-me-don’t-come-close-to-me attitude.  They’re unapproachable, apart, scared rigid that if they let anyone close to them at all they’ll fly apart, can’t handle it.  They don’t have relationships or friendships, because they can’t give anything of themselves.  Any physical relationship they have is usually commercial; anything else is soured by suspicion and distrust.

Me, I’m not that bad.  I’m not unapproachable, I’ve some damn good friends and I certainly never had to pay for my sex.  That’s not to say I haven’t paid the price tag when I’ve been offered something irresistibly exotic, but I’ve never had to.  I’ve had lots of relationships, both men and women - I’m a nice guy, after all, and I’m devastatingly good looking.  The mirror never lies.

My armour’s different.  My armour’s based on never taking anything seriously.  On being casual, streetwise, moving on before I can get involved.

Mostly that’s worked for me.  Sure, it gets you a reputation.  I’m not exactly considered a good bet in the relationship stakes.  Quite a few people think I’m a sexual predator because I love ‘em for a while then move on to someone new. 

That’s with the ladies or the boys whose bodies I want.  Good for a laugh, good for some hot sex, but they always want more than I can give them, more than is in me. The ones I keep outside the armour.

There are exceptions.  There’s one or two people who’ve found a way through my armour.  It took me a while, but in the end I let them in.  Scary, but worth it.  Trouble is, there’s so damn few that I can let that happen with, and they’ve always been the ones where the relationship hasn’t been sexual.  With them it’s been something different. 

They’re my friends.  They’ve always accepted me for what I am.  Boomer especially has been so tolerant and relaxed about things that I’ve never felt threatened by him.  Everything is real easy, undemanding.

But Apollo……Apollo’s not that easy.  Things are more intense.  He can get a bit uptight, and although he’s always there for me, he always, but always, bails me out over Pyramid or any other spot of bother I’ve got into, and he’s the best Triad partner a man could ask for, and I’d trust him with my life, we have our edgy moments.  We’re close, closer than I’ve ever been to any other living being, but we had had rows, differences, fights.  We came close to ending our friendship completely when I was dating his sister, Athena, and in the end I had to decide between the pair of them. 

Which way to go?  A lovely sexy lady who was exciting and who could really turn me on, or her uptight brother who was the closest friend I ever had.

I went with Apollo in the end.  I did ask Athena to seal with me, just after the Destruction, but I knew in my heart that she’d say no.  I was incredibly relieved that she did.

And not only because the commitment scared me.  I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth that what scared me even more was that I’d lose Apollo, that he’d be so mad with me that he’d never want to speak to me again.

And that I couldn’t bear.

Athena was mad with me when I drifted away.  Apollo didn’t say much, but we were closer than ever before.  It was me he turned to for comfort over Zac, over his mother, over Serina.  Me that he wanted to help him with Serina’s legacy, the six year old son that he’d acquired overnight. 

Me.

So there I am.  Life as I’ve always known it.  Two good friends, a host of casual bodies to enjoy whenever I want them, a sort of share in a son if I get a sudden paternal kick.  No real worries, no real commitment to any one person.

And last night, quite suddenly, it changed.

God knows what we were thinking about.  God knows if we were thinking.  Ambrosa has a way of stopping the thought processes dead in their tracks. 

All I know is that I woke up this morning and as there often is, there was a naked body curled up against mine, nestling up close, snuggling in tight in the memory of shared passion and pleasure.

For a minute I didn’t realise who it was, tried desperately to remember who it was I’d taken to bed with me.  I’m not much of a gentleman, I admit, but I do think it’s courteous to at least remember their names in the morning. 

Then I remembered.

So here I am, hiding in his turboflush while he’s still sleeping, and I’m trying to work out what to do. 

And this is really very hard for me, you know.

Because I’ve never felt this exhilarated, this happy, this complete. 

And I’ve never felt this naked and afraid.  Because last night he casually tore through the armour as if it were thin foil, with one little kiss.  Last night he opened me right up, in more ways than one.

And when Apollo wakes up and comes looking for me, what the hell am I going to do?  Tell him again what I told him last night, that I love him so much that it almost stops my heart, that I want him again and for ever?  Let him tell me what he told me last night, that he loves me too and that this is what he wants?  That I want to try and make a go of this if he does?  That he’s the only one who can reach me the way he did last night?

Or remember that life sucks and retire behind the armour where it’s safe?

This is really very hard for me, you know.

 

 

 

 

Alternative Perspective

 

I can’t believe that we did this.

When I woke up there was a cool empty space in the bed beside me, where I know Starbuck had been the night before.  It bothered me, waking up and finding the space instead of him.  I’d expected him to be there.  Now I have to worry about where he’s got to and if he’s all right.

He was as drink as an owl last night.  Okay, I was too, but at least I could still walk when we left the OC.  Starbuck was so far gone that I had to prop him up in a corner of the turbolift and when I turned away to operate the lift, he slid quietly and gently to the floor.  Great.  I wish I had a cubit for every time I’ve done this, looked after him when he’s had a few too many.  I’d be able to retire.

Maybe I’d had too much to drink, I don’t know.  But instead of carting him off to his quarters and pouring him into bed, I took him off to my quarters instead.  Look, I do not have to explain myself to you.  I was tired.  My place was closer.  That’s it.

And when we got there, he seemed to come out of the stupor and his eyes were so blue and they were only inches away from mine, and …

Well, I can’t believe that we did this.

Look, you need know about me and Starbuck.  He’s been my best and closest friend for years.  I think the world of him.  Oh, he infuriates me sometimes.  He’s casual, inconsiderate, cocky, not entirely honest when it comes to financing his Pyramid systems - I can’t remember how many times he’s suckered me out of a week’s pay and I fall for it every time - and I damned near killed him when he ignored what I said to him and got involved with Athena. 

My fault.  I should know by now that if I want Starbuck to do something I should order him to do the opposite.  Sure, Bucko, have an affair with my little sister, break her heart.  Be my guest.  Then he wouldn’t have gone within a parsec of her.

Maybe.

And much as he annoys me and plays me up, and ignores my orders, and generally runs rings around me, I wouldn’t be without him.  I wouldn’t change him either, because then he wouldn’t be Starbuck. 

And underneath I know what he’s really like.  He’s not had an easy life, orphaned very early and then never having anything to call his own.  So he’s insecure, vulnerable, lonely, hiding it all underneath that loveable rogue persona that he’s constructed as camouflage.  Effective, but I know it’s just camouflage.

And because he’s how he is, maybe I shouldn’t have… well, you know what I shouldn't have done.  I don't have to spell it out.  I should have just taken him home and poured him into bed as usual.  I should’ve kept what I want and what I feel right out of it.

But I want him and I love him.  I’ve never said that before, but it’s true.  And last night was the best for me in a long, long time.  The best for me ever.

And maybe now he’s awake and he’s sober, he’s gone off somewhere and he’s mad with me.  I mean, you could look at what happened and say I took advantage of him.  I know he said some stuff last night, but he really was very, very drunk and he probably thought I was someone else.

I can’t really believe he’d say that stuff to me.  Not to boring old Apollo.  I just wish he’d meant it for me.

Shit.  I really shouldn’t have done it.  I don’t want to lose him.  I wonder where he is?  I wonder if he’s okay?

I wonder if he meant it.

I can’t believe that we did this.

 

 

 

 

Convergence

 

Starbuck stared down at the floor.  The tiles made a nice pattern, he decided.  Very tasteful.  Elegant, even, without being fussy.  He particularly liked the way the pale green bits curved around in a shape that reminded him of the way the human body curved at the hips, all the associations and memories that brought of passion and pleasure, and Apollo’s arse was nice and shapely and had just that curve to it.

He clamped down on that thought abruptly.  No.  This had nothing to do with Apollo.  Just a nice pattern on the floor of Apollo’s bathroom that you could look at for a long time - oh, a centar at least he’d sat and looked at it - and it meant you could look at it and look at it and not have to think.  And definitely not have to make a decision.  Just look at the pretty pattern and let your mind drift.

Starbuck shivered.  It wasn’t cold exactly, but he’d been sitting on the turboflush for over a centar now, thinking about the dilemma he was caught in, stark naked and too scared to go back out and get his clothes.  He supposed that Apollo was still asleep, but if he, Starbuck didn’t hurry up and go and rescue his clothes and get out of there, he, Apollo, would wake up and then where would he, Starbuck, be?

And that’s another thing, Starbuck thought crossly.  All those personal pronouns, masculine, made things very confusing when you were talking about a couple of the same sex.  Unless they were girls, in which case it was personal pronouns, feminine… Starbuck abruptly clamped down on that thought as well.  He didn’t want to think about girls, even in erotic same-sex situations that would normally get him quite steamy.  He wanted to think about Apollo instead.  No!  He didn’t want to think about Apollo.  That would get him altogether too steamy.  The thought of being the other half of a couple with Apollo was enough to steam up a glacier and be damned to personal pronouns of either gender.

He decided, quite suddenly, that he’d go out into the bedroom, wake Apollo, thank him for the wonderful evening, be dead casual and nonchalant as if it meant nothing the way sex had never really meant anything other than physical release, and retreat behind the armour….  That he’d go out into the bedroom, wake Apollo and tell him, Apollo, that he, Starbuck - damn these bloody pronouns! - loved him, Apollo, to death, damn the armour too and could they please do it again…  That he’d just sit here and look at the pretty pattern in the floor tiles and try very hard not to think that the pale green bits had exactly the same curve on them as Apollo’s smooth-skinned, warm buttocks and how wonderful those buttocks had felt tucked into his groin when they’d made love.…

Starbuck buried his head in his hands and groaned.

"Are you all right?" Apollo asked him in a very quiet and subdued tone.

Starbuck leapt up so quickly that he almost fell over, and had to bite back a yelp as the blood rushed quickly back through a rear end that had spent the last centar pressed up against the turboflush seat.  He wondered if he had a bright red ring encircling his arse but was too distracted to peer back over his shoulder and have a look.  Besides, Apollo might wonder what he was up to.

"Apollo!"  was all he could manage, mentally kicking himself for sounding as if the captain’s appearance in his own bathroom was an event so unexpected that it ranked with the Second Coming.  Or the fourth, or fifth, or…. He  shut off that thought too. 

He realised that Apollo was as naked as he was, and he went pink around the ears.  Almost unconsciously, one hand dropped to cover his genitals.  Just the sight of Apollo naked was getting him hard, and he really shouldn’t embarrass poor Apollo any more than he presumably had already, with his stupid display the night before.

Apollo didn’t quite meet his eyes, but stared so resolutely at a point somewhere behind Starbuck’s left ear that Starbuck had to suppress the desire to turn and try and see what had caught Apollo’s attention.  Apollo reached for a towel from the hook behind him and handed it to Starbuck silently, unhooking a second to wrap around his own waist.

"Thanks," Starbuck said gruffly.  He muffled his inconvenient erection into the towel, hoping to God that Apollo hadn’t noticed.

Apollo nodded, glumly.  "Are you?"  he asked.  "All right, I mean.  You’ve been in here for ages."

"I’m fine," Starbuck assured him.

"Good.  I thought you might be hungover, or something."

"No.  I’m fine."

"Good," Apollo said again, and silence fell.

Apollo stare down at the tiles and traced the curving green lines carefully with his left foot, making sure that he followed the curve exactly.  Round and down, then back again, round and down and back again... 

Starbuck stared at him, watching Apollo’s toe tracing the edge of the curve, admiring the way that the effort Apollo was making towards precision tightened the muscles in an already shapely leg.

"I was a bit worried,"  Apollo said after an uncomfortable centon.  "I thought at first that you’d gone, then I realised that all your clothes were on the floor and you couldn’t have.  Gone, I mean.  So then I got a bit worried about you."

"I’m fine,"  Starbuck said.

And another long, uncomfortable silence.

"Starbuck…"

" ‘Pollo…" 

They spoke simultaneously, and looked at each other properly for the first time and grinned shyly.

"Sorry," Apollo said.  "You first."

"No, you,"  Starbuck said.

"Sure?"

"It’s your bathroom."

Apollo took a deep, deep breath.  "Well, I suppose we had a bit too much to drink last night," he said in a carefully neutral tone.  "And I wanted to say that I’m sorry, Starbuck, if, as a result, I did or said anything that was inappropriate.  I hope it won’t make any difference to our friendship, but I quite understand if …"  his voice trailed off.

Inappropriate?  Starbuck thought wildly.  What the hell did he mean, "inappropriate"?

"Shit, Starbuck," said Apollo, in a rush, "I don’t deserve that you should ever speak to me again, but I’m sorry.  Please believe me.  I’m really sorry.  I shouldn’t have pushed myself on you like that.  I can’t believe that we did this…that I did this….."  his voice trailed away again.

Starbuck frowned, and Apollo flushed red, and went back to tracing the pretty green pattern with his big toe.  His right foot, this time, allowing Starbuck to make a comparative assessment about the shapeliness of his other leg.  Starbuck thought they were both very nice.  Not a lot to choose between them.  But Starbuck decided that he would like to choose what was between them, anatomically speaking.

"Why?"  Starbuck demanded.

Apollo swallowed hard.  "I suppose the booze was too much for me," he said miserably.  "And I suppose I lost control."

"Lost control?"  Starbuck repeated distantly.

"I suppose I always wanted….I mean, I know that in the normal run of things you’d never look at me that way….I mean, it was unforgivable of me to take advantage of the fact you’d had a few too many…"

Starbuck’s frown deepened.  "Apollo, are you apologising to me because we had sex?" he asked.

Apollo nodded.  "I know you didn’t want to…"

"How do you know?  Did you have to tie me down or something?"  Starbuck stretched out a hand and looked critically at his wrist.  No rope burns that he could see.

"No, of course not!  But you weren’t exactly in a condition to make informed choices!"

"Oh,"  Starbuck said and looked at him more closely.  He had a memory, fleeting and alcohol-blurred it was true, of telling Apollo that he loved him and Apollo saying it right back at him.  Starbuck had spent a lot of time in the turboflush that morning telling himself that the drink had made Apollo mistake him for someone else.  He didn’t know who else, but Apollo couldn’t have meant him.  Wasn’t possible.  Was it?

Another uncomfortable silence.

"Well say something!" Apollo said with a characteristic flash of impatience.

Starbuck cleared his throat.  "I meant, why-are-you-sorry not why-did-you-do-it," he said quietly.

Apollo’s turn to frown.  "Oh,"  he said.  "Didn’t you expect me to be sorry?"

Starbuck’s armour crumbled.  It was really very hard for him, but he allowed the defences down and took the risk.  "Well," he said with a kind of painful honesty.  "I was kind of hoping that you wouldn’t regret it too much."

"Oh," said Apollo again.  He locked eyes with Starbuck for a micron, then went back to playing with the floor tiles.  After a centon, he said, still not looking up from his toe exercises:  "Do you?"

"What?"

"Regret it?"

Starbuck looked down at the tiles, watching the curve that Apollo’s toe was following with such meticulous accuracy, the curve that echoed the shape of Apollo’s buttocks.

"Not if you don’t," he said, suddenly  feeling as shy as a teenager on his first date.

"And you don’t think that I took advantage of you?"

"Apollo, you wouldn’t know how."  Starbuck gave him a little smile.  "You couldn’t do anything to me that I didn’t want."

"Oh," said Apollo again.  He sounded like a recording that had got stuck on a single note.  "So did you?  Want it, I mean."

Starbuck’s smile broadened.  "Yes," he said, decision made.  "I have to say my recollection of last night’s a bit hazy, but I’m pretty sure I wanted everything we did together."

"Ah," said Apollo, by way of variety.  "And?"

"And?"

"And did you mean what you said?"

"That I love you?  And not like a friend or a brother."  Starbuck moistened suddenly dry lips with his tongue, his heart hammering painfully.  He’d never said this before, sober.  "I meant it."

"I see."  And it was Apollo’s turn to frown.  He glanced at the chronometer on his wrist, all he was wearing apart from the modest little towel.  "Nearly seven."

"Is it?" Starbuck said, then added casually.  "I’m not on duty until noon.  But then you know that, you did the rosters."

Apollo nodded.  "Me too.  Noon, I mean."

"We’re usually on the same duty shift," Starbuck reminded him.

"Yeah," Apollo agreed, then added in the same casual tone that Starbuck had achieved.  "Boxey stayed over at Athena’s.  She’s taking him to school for me."

Starbuck nodded.  "Nice girl, your sister."  he noted.  "Five centars, then, before..." 

"Yeah."

"We could fit in a bit more inappropriate behaviour before we go on duty, if you like."  Starbuck offered diffidently.  "Quite a bit, in five centars."

"You really want to?  Stone cold sober and no excuses?"

Starbuck grinned at him.  "Stone cold sober and no excuses," he agreed.  "On one condition, Apollo."

"Uh huh?"  Apollo had stopped playing with the tiles and was grinning happily, if dazedly, at Starbuck.

"Well, you’re the man in charge of the duty rosters.  If you put your mind to it you should be able to find masses of opportunity for some inappropriate behaviour."

"And you’d like that?" 

Starbuck grinned into eyes that a centon ago had been several feet away across the bathroom from him, but unaccountably seemed now to be only inches from his own.  For the life of him, he couldn’t have said which one of them had moved.  Maybe they both had.

"Quite a bit," he said, and twitched the towel aside, and this time Apollo’s eyes didn’t avoid looking at what was waiting for him there.

"I’ll see what I can do," Apollo promised, letting his own towel slip away and reaching for Starbuck with both hands. 

Starbuck tangled his hands into Apollo’s hair and pulled him close for a long and satisfying kiss.

"Bed," he said breathlessly when they came up for air.  "Nice bathroom, Apollo, but those tiles would be bloody hard to screw on.  Not to mention cold."

"Bed, it is.  But I’ve a condition of my own, Starbuck."

"Anything," Starbuck said rashly, taking another long and loving kiss.  Despite the amount they’d drunk the night before, Apollo tasted wonderful.  He ought to have breath that would fail toxicity tests, but he tasted wonderful.  Starbuck decided that he really was in love.  There was no other possible explanation.

"I’m a modest man, Starbuck," Apollo told him, taking his hand and pulling him towards the bedroom.  "But even my ego can’t take being told that having sex with me is so unmemorable that all you have is some hazy recollection.  Now you’re sober, try and keep your mind on what’s going on, okay?"